WGRZ: "What should be done with the 7,000 vacant properties the City of Buffalo owns?"

Date: May 3, 2024

Nate Benson | May 3, 2024

The City of Buffalo owns roughly 7,000 vacant properties, according to Mayor Byron Brown's State of the City address. There are an additional 9,000 privately owned vacant properties in the city as well. 

There are 15,000 vacant properties in total. 

"That's a lot of land, that's like 3,300 acres," Sam Magavern said. "It's like the size of all of North Buffalo."

Magavern is a senior policy fellow at the Partnership for the Public Good. He authored a study about Buffalo's vacant property issue in 2023. 

"If you drive around different parts of the city, you see that it's a big deal, and that it really impacts people's quality of life," Magavern said. 

During his state of the city address, Mayor Brown said the city is committing $10 million from the American Rescue Plan to build 100 affordable housing units on vacant property the city owns. Erie County is contributing to the project as well, with $13.5 million being spent. 

But that still leaves 6,900 vacant lots the city has to do something with. The majority of the vacant properties are located on the East Side of Buffalo, and lower West Side — but there are pockets of vacant land throughout the city. 

Mayor Brown says there is a plan in the works. 

"It is a comprehensive strategy that we've worked on for several years," Mayor Brown said. 

According to Office of Strategic Planning executive director Brendan Mehaffy, the city has identified that redeveloping the vacant lots is a half billion dollar opportunity. 

"It's a multifaceted strategy focusing on infill opportunities," Mehaffy said. "We are working with the Buffalo Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, issuing RFPs, for private developers to do that work."

Mehaffy and Mayor Brown said the strategy would be released soon. 

The PPG report about vacant properties in Buffalo outlined several areas that the public and non-profit organizations could benefit from access to the lots. 

"The first thing that we recommend is to clean and green as many of them as you can," Magavern said. "You clean it up, you plant grass, and you put just a little fence that shows that someone's caring for this property, and that it's not a good place to dump old tires or do bad stuff."

Magavern says that Philadelphia and Baltimore have succeeded in combating its own vacant property issues through the use of clean and green programs. 

"No one wants to live near a blighted, vacant lot, but everyone wants to live near a nice green space," Magavern said. 

Another option is allowing nonprofit groups to buy the lots at below market value to quickly redevelop the properties for projects that benefit the community. 

"Right now, a lot of groups find it very difficult to access that land," Magavern said. 

During an interview after the state of the city address on Wednesday, Mehaffy said there will be considerable community input as plans for the vacant lots formalize. 

"We're going to be doing a deep dive community engagement, to engage the community on the vision," Mehaffy said. 

View the full WGRZ/Channel 2 story on their website, here.